Reference Librarian Duties and Skills to Put on Your Resume

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 13, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Reference or research librarians help visitors locate information and resources on various topics in a library. They sometimes specialize in specific areas, such as art, music, or medicine, or have broader knowledge, like a university or public librarian. When writing your resume, it's helpful to understand which duties and skills to include to best reflect your knowledge and capabilities as an experienced librarian. In this article, we provide a list of 10 reference librarian job duties and five foundational skills you might include in your resume.

10 reference librarian job duties

A reference librarian is a highly knowledgeable information professional, typically trained in library sciences, who can recommend, locate, and interpret various resources to help answer patrons' questions. They can effectively navigate specialized databases to help individuals find reference material to assist in their research or answer various questions.

Research librarians can work in various academic, public, legal, government, museum, or corporate libraries and often have a bachelor's or master's degree in library science. They may train in a specific area, such as law or art history, which can help when working in a related library, like an art museum library. Here are 10 responsibilities and job duties often included in this position:

1. Answer questions

A large component of a librarian's job is answering patron's questions, which can vary widely depending on the library's size, setting, and an individual's needs. For example, a patron in a public library might ask for information on vegan diets, while someone in a law library might want information on a specific provincial law. Answering questions can take place in person, typically at the reference desk, by phone, or through different online or digital communication tools.

Related: 10 Jobs You Can Secure with a Library Science Degree

2. Find reference materials

This type of librarian specializes in reference location and retrieval as part of their normal job duties. To do this effectively requires a good understanding of how and where to find materials, including new information and technologies that can provide easier access to large amounts of data. The kinds of reference materials typically depend on the library setting, such as materials found in a medical school library versus those in a children's public library.

Related: Archivist vs. Librarian: What's the Difference between Them?

3. Manage and expand collection materials

Research librarians often work with other libraries to arrange interlibrary loans to help patrons find materials unavailable in one particular library. Managing the library's collection can include suggesting new acquisitions, items to remove, titles to make available electronically, and those to include on a larger, often paid subscription database. For specialized centres, such as law, medical, music, art, or government libraries, these professionals often have related degrees, such as a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Master of Music.

Related: Steps to Become a Librarian (Requirements and Skills)

4. Plan and host workshops

Many libraries offer workshops on various educational topics, like basic computer literacy, specific software programs, research approaches and tools, or essay writing tips. The type of workshops a librarian might offer can depend on their knowledge of a particular subject, the type of library, and its size and resources. These workshops are often available at no cost to visitors, especially in public libraries.

5. Assist patrons on computers and troubleshoot issues

Many library patrons require help with reference searches or issues they may encounter when using the computers. Librarians often use their vast knowledge of databases and other resources to help patrons complete research projects or activities for personal, academic, or other purposes. They often help patrons use the library's internal database or online public access catalogue (OPAC) to locate resources, find external search engines to conduct reference searches, and troubleshoot issues.

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6. Conduct reader advisory services

Reader advisory services aim to encourage reading among library patrons. Research librarians help visitors by asking them open-ended questions to assess their preferences and considering other factors like their age or reading level. They aim to determine what they like or which titles are suitable for them and typically suggest two or three books that the reader may enjoy.

7. Create innovative pathfinders

Librarians often generate relevant preparatory lists called pathfinders that outline some reliable and respected resources on various subjects. These lists can help patrons find different initial resources quickly and assist them with how to conduct further, more in-depth research on specific topics they might search for. Librarians create pathfinders as basic research guides that include subject headings used in the OPAC to find further sources, call numbers, reference materials, online sources, and other potential resources.

8. Coordinate and supervise assistants and volunteers

Libraries often have assistants and volunteer members who help with various tasks, such as sorting donated books, shelving incoming titles, helping patrons, or simply assisting where required. Librarians are often responsible for bringing on, coordinating, and supervising these individuals, including creating schedules, monitoring their activities, and with interns, reporting back to the school on their progress. Experienced librarians often mentor junior librarians, teaching them how to do effective reference searches, how to work with diverse patrons, and encouraging them as they start their careers.

Related: How to Write a Librarian Resume (With Template and Example)

9. Collect data and write reports

As libraries increasingly digitize their collections and patrons turn to electronic resources, librarians can spend much of their time online, collecting and analyzing data and writing reports. Librarians often gather statistics on library activities to monitor patron interactions and review data on reference usage to help manage and improve the library's collection. They might compile reports for archivists, purchasing managers, and community outreach stakeholders to help improve library and customer services.

10. Participate in ongoing professional development

Employers often expect research librarians to participate in professional development and affiliated association education opportunities to ensure they remain current on new industry trends, policies, and technologies. Like many sectors, the information industry continually changes to meet consumer needs and expectations and adopt new technologies. A librarian's duties might include attending industry-related conferences, taking courses to update their skills, and monitoring industry trends to ensure libraries remain relevant.

Related: Professional Development Courses You Can Pursue

5 research librarian skills

The skills research librarians typically require can differ based on the type of library. For example, a librarian in a law library might have different skills than one in a public library. Some foundational skills most librarians have that employers might look for on a research librarian's resume. Here are five example skills:

1. Communication

Communication can involve everything from speaking with a wide and diverse group of patrons with different educations, cultural expectations, and needs to making presentations, leading workshops, and writing reports. Answering patrons' questions may require active listening, sensitivity, and patience. Librarians typically also require superior written communications skills, as they often create library materials, write communications for other library staff, and create various reports for stakeholders and library officials.

2. Customer service

Attending to library patrons' needs is a large part of the research librarian's job, so working with the public effectively and professionally is a valuable skill. This can include proactively looking for ways to improve patrons' library experience, understanding the various expectations patrons might have, and ensuring patrons receive ongoing value from their library encounters. For example, a librarian typically approaches a child's library experience differently than a medical doctor looking for niche research materials, so having broad customer service skills can be helpful.

Related: Why Is Exceptional Customer Service Important? (Plus Tips)

3. Organization

With thousands of books, reference materials, and other resources in a typical library collection, having meticulous organization can be an indispensable skill. Keeping all items accurately and efficiently organized makes finding items faster and easier for patrons and staff. Librarians also typically use organization skills for other tasks like scheduling volunteers, planning and running workshops, acquisitions and disposals, and arranging community events, among many other activities.

Related: What Is Managerial Organization? (Examples and Tips)

4. Information literacy

Information literacy is a key skill for most librarians, but it's crucial for research librarians who regularly work with patrons to locate vast amounts of information in many forms. For example, librarians can quickly identify, locate, assess, and apply various forms of information effectively, including print, digital, and other forms, like audio and visual. They're also superior search strategists, able to assess the quality, reliability, and efficacy of various websites and databases when helping patrons find credible information.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Computer and digital literacy

Librarians use computers for most of their duties, so having strong computer skills is essential. Effective digital literacy allows librarians to leverage various digital technologies for communication and research, like the internet, databases, social media platforms, and various audio and video devices. As libraries adopt new technologies, having these skills can be highly desirable.

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